Behind the Laptop: The Karting Triple Crown
What three events are the pinnacle of karting here in the United States?
During the first weekend of this month, a moment in history occurred, one that I had not witnessed through my entire life. American Pharoah won the final leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing in the United States, becoming the first horse to do so since Affirmed in 1978. The term ‘Triple Crown’ dates back to the early 1920s after Sir Barton won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. The Triple Crown Trophy was commissioned in 1950, awarding all the previous winners and those since, as a total of 12 horses have won the title. There are other Triple Crown awards in countries around the globe in horse racing, and now the term ‘Triple Crown’ is used throughout the sports world to signify conquering three achievements, either in one season or over one’s entire career.
Upon investigating a ‘Triple Crown’ of motorsport for drivers, one could point to the unofficial events as being the Indianapolis 500, the Monaco Grand Prix, and recently completed 24 Hours of Le Mans, which was capped on Sunday with Porsche winning for a second straight year. The only driver to complete this Triple Crown, with a victory at all three events during his career, is British legend Graham Hill. A five-time winner at Monaco, Hill won the Indy 500 in his debut during the 1966 race, and then completed the Triple Crown in 1972 with victory at Le Mans. Currently, two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya is the only active driver to have won two of the three events (12 drivers total), with his 2003 Monaco victory completing the second step.
Different forms of motorsport have their own unique Triple Crown. Endurance racing has the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring, and of course, Le Mans. NASCAR used to have the Winston Million, which featured the ‘Grand Slam’ of the Daytona 500, Winston 500 (Talladega), Coca-Cola 600, and Southern 500 (Darlington). IndyCar had their own Triple Crown from 1971-1980 encompassing Indy, the Pocono 500, and the California 500.
Looking at karting and its near 60-year history, there has never been three standout events designated as the ‘Triple Crown of Karting’ here in the United States, at least that I am aware of. In today’s age, the Superkarts! USA SuperNationals is the largest karting event in North America, and possibly the world. Now entering its 19th year, 123 different drivers have claimed a victory in the 24 different categories offered over the SuperNationals’ long history, featuring drivers from multiple countries.
The next step in the United States Triple Crown of Karting could be the US Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals. Currently, the event is the only true single-race national championship to decide its yearly title winners. Since its inception in 2001, the event has grown to feature roughly 200 drivers each season, competing in seven categories, putting regular club drivers and the nation’s best against one another at a different facility year to year.
When looking at these two events, only four drivers have won races during their career, over the past 14 years of their combined existence. This short list includes Joey Wimsett, Nick Neri, Anthony Gangi Jr., Patricio O’Ward and Logan Sargeant.
The question remains, what would be the third leg of the United States Triple Crown of Karting?
As of today, there are no other races that truly stand out as a major event next to these two. Certainly, there are major championship programs, including the winter series on each coast – Rotax Challenge of the Americas and Florida Winter Tour. The SKUSA SpringNationals and SummerNationals complete the schedule of the SKUSA Fikse Wheels Pro Tour, and both events are well-attended and important. In recent years, the United States Pro Kart Series has taken the lead on the East Coast as the premier championship. Certain street races have that uniqueness about them, and take the challenge of winning to the next level. However, many have turned into more grassroots events rather than primetime races such as the Quincy in the Park or the Elkhart Grand Prix races from year’s past.
Maybe the RoboPong 200 team event could be considered as part of the karting Triple Crown, as it is karting’s equivalent of Le Mans, or the Daytona 24, or the Sebring 12-Hour. The 200-mile race is currently the premier endurance event in North America. International Kart Federation still pushes out its Grand Nationals each year, however, the prestige has been lost as the numbers continue to dwindle. The World Karting Association Manufacturers Cup Series remains as a top traveling series as well, but all are missing that elusive race that is a ‘must-attend’, aside from the WKA Daytona KartWeek.
For years, Daytona International Speedway has been a destination for karters, going on over 40 years, and could be considered the third leg of a Triple Crown. In fact, it could be developed into its own type of Triple Crown.
For road racers, it is an annual pilgrimage south between Christmas and New Years Eve to compete against the best in the country, and sometimes around the world. The prestige of the competition has diluted, however, there is no greater feeling than riding on the highbanks at over 100mph. Sprint racing inside the ‘World Center of Racing’ was added years later, and during the 2000s, was among the best events of the season. Also added was the dirt oval event, held for years at the Municipal Stadium and featured entries into the 1000 range. Today, the Dirt Nationals are held outside the turn 1-2 complex of the highbanks on the Daytona Dirt Flat Track.
Looking at this annual event, competing in the three different disciplines is something that really intrigues me. All three genres take something different to be successful. Road racing, you have to have outright speed and some testicular fortitude to tame the fast layout. Sprint involves a complete package, from chassis setup, engine tuning, and the ability to be consistent lap after lap. Dirt is much of the same, but in a different manner. Chasing the chassis setup and tire package to go with the changing track conditions, while keeping a cool and calm approach behind the wheel to stay up front and avoid getting pushed out into the marbles.
In the history of the Daytona KartWeek, not one driver has attempted to compete in all three events at the same time. Obviously, the logistics of trying to race all three programs is a bit complicated, especially now that the Dirt Nationals compete more during the daylight hours then at night, back when entries were at its highest. A driver would have to coordinate with three different teams at three different tracks aboard three different karts.
I’d love for someone in the karting community to try and attempt competing in all three events at this year’s WKA Daytona KartWeek. It would make for a great story to follow, and would make karting history here in the United States.
Aside from those options, I am not sure how we could award a Triple Crown in karting. WKA and other programs introduced a Triple Crown by winning three championships, or three different classes at one event. That, however, does not feel like a major accomplishment similar to that of winning the three major events of your sport in your career.
I’m interested in hearing the opinions of other karters and sports fans on the prestige of a Triple Crown, and what you consider to be the three major races. Head over to our Forum discussion to give your take on what your think should be the Triple Crown of Karting here in the US.
Life is short, have fun!
eKartingNews.com Managing Editor